Azerbaijan Can't Kick the Habit: Another NGO Activist Gets Prison-Sentence
For Azerbaijan, this week has been a busy one. But, critics charge, not in the way you might expect from a country that holds a leadership position in Europe’s senior human-rights body, the Council of Europe.
On July 14, 57-year-old Hasan Huseynli, a prominent, regional non-governmental-organization leader, was sentenced to roughly six years in prison for allegedly illegally carrying weapons and supposedly wounding a person with a knife.
It was a charge that took even the usually reserved US embassy aback. “Given his mild manner and history of promoting civic engagement and education, it is virtually impossible to believe Huseynli used a knife against a local resident, as the prosecution claimed,” the embassy said in a statement.
Previously, Huseynli was the head of Ganja Education Information Center established in 1998. The center helped young Azerbaijanis interested in graduate and undergraduate education abroad, especially in the United States.
For the past ten years, Huseynli, who has acted as a source for this reporter, has run the Ganja-based Intelligent Citizen Enlightenment Center Public Union (Kamil Vətəndaş" Maarifləndirmə Mərkəzi İctimai Birliyi), a center that organizes various youth-related activities to encourage civil society in western Azerbaijan.
Most of its financing came from foreign sources; a fact likely to raise an eyebrow in certain circles in Baku, given ongoing government suspicions about NGO registrations.*
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, a European-Commission-associated club of NGOs from six former Soviet republics (including Azerbaijan), earlier had charged that Huseynli’s March arrest was based on “trumped-up charges . . .” and that the investigation was “completely unlawful and absurd . . . “
Some allegedly have speculated that the presidentially appointed mayor of Ganja, Elmar Veliyev, got irritated by Huseynli's youth-organization activities, and become the real cause of these criminal charges, Contact.az reported, citing unnamed local sources. Veliyev has not commented.
Local human rights defenders consider the charges against Huseynli to be part of a larger crackdown on civil society that picked up steam in November 2013, soon after Ilham Aliyev started his third term in office.
In what many see as the latest sign of that trend, the general prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of National Security claimed on July 17 that they had received video-recordings (from an unidentified individual) supposedly showing jailed Zerkalo journalist Rauf Mirkradirov receiving money from two Armenian civil-society activists whom prosecutors claim worked for a group financed by Armenian intelligence. Mirkadirov, who took part in citizen-diplomacy initiatives with Armenia, was accused of espionage this April.
Mirkadirov’s lawyers have dismissed these latest allegations, charging that, once again, with such declarations, Azerbaiani officials are not observing the right to the presumption of innocence, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service reported.
*The Intelligent Citizen Enlightenment Center Public Union previously has received funding from the Open Society Assistance Foundation - Azerbaijan. The Foundation operated as part of the international network of Open Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org runs under the separate auspices of the Open Society Foundation-New York City's Eurasia Project.